College | Story | 2/13/2020

Weekend Preview: 2020 Kickoff

Patrick Ebert         Mike Rooney        
Photo: Reid Detmers (Louisville Athletics)

2020 College Baseball Staff Predictions | 2020 College Baseball Preview Index

As the days get longer and more sunlight returns into our lives we also welcome back college baseball. The 2020 season kicks off on Friday at the Division I level and we hope you have been following along during our expansive preview content. If you haven't, be sure to click the "Preview Index" link above to access everything from top prospect rankings to 31 individual conference previews.

Now we get to focus on what is actually happening on baseball diamonds across the nation instead of just putting our best guesses forward. And a lot of early action will take place in Arizona with the return of the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament held at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. The defending national champion Vanderbilt Commodores will once again be in attendance looking to defend their title the same place where their championship season begun a year ago.

And they'll get a familiar foe right off the bat in Michigan, a team Vanderbilt beat eight months ago in Omaha. Those two teams, along with UConn and Cal Poly, will make up the four-team field. And just to make things even more interesting, Michigan is stepping aside on Saturday after their game against Cal Poly to take on fifth-ranked Arizona State.

Minnesota, Oregon, Pepperdine and San Diego will be playing in nearby Tempe as part of the Angels College Classic. Grand Canyon hosts No. 19 Oklahoma State in Phoenix to add even more intrigue to the Desert.

There are two more traditional series taking place on Opening Weekend between Top 25-ranked teams. The biggest of those will occur in Oxford, Miss. as No. 18 Ole Miss hosts No. 1 Louisville. This marks the second year in a row that Louisville will be playing in the marquee series to kick off the season, doing so a year ago against UConn at a neutral site in Florida.

Speaking of neutral sites in Florida, No. 16 Oklahoma will face No. 25 Virginia in Pensacola for a showdown between two teams full of promise that did not quality for the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

Similar to past seasons all of our scouting reports on players will be shared in the Perfect Game College Player Database. Each week during the season, in tandem with our partners at Rawlings, we will continue to identify a Player and Pitcher of the Week.

And stay tuned for the return of Perfect Game College Baseball on ESPNU Radio on SiriusXM channel 84 with co-hosts Daron Sutton and Mike Rooney. The first program will be aired on Wednesday, February 19 from 7-9 p.m. ET. The one-hour Perfect Game College Softball program, with co-hosts Daron Sutton and Amanda Freed, will immediately follow (9-10 p.m. ET).

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Louisville at No. 18 Ole Miss Oxford, MS
2 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Michigan, UConn, Cal Poly Scottsdale, AZ
3 Texas Tech home vs. Houston Baptist, Northern Colorado Lubbock, TX
4 Arkansas home vs. Eastern Illinois Fayetteville, AR
5 Arizona State home vs. Villanova, No. 12 Michigan Phoenix, AZ
6 Auburn home vs. Illinois-Chicago Auburn, AL
7 Miami home vs. Rutgers Coral Gables, FL
8 Mississippi State home vs. Wright State Starkville, MS
9 UCLA home vs. UC Riverside Los Angeles, CA
10 Georgia home vs. Richmond Athens, GA
11 Duke home vs. Army Durham, NC
12 Michigan vs. No. 2 Vanderbilt, Cal Poly, at No. 5 Arizona State, UConn Scottsdale, AZ
13 Florida home vs. Marshall Gainesville, FL
14 Florida State home vs. Niagara Tallahassee, FL
15 Stanford home vs. Cal State Fullerton Stanford, CA
16 Oklahoma vs. No. 25 Virginia Pensacola, FL
17 North Carolina home vs. Middle Tennessee Chapel Hill, NC
18 Mississippi home vs. No. 1 Louisville Oxford, MS
19 Oklahoma State at Grand Canyon Phoenix, AZ
20 Louisiana State home vs. Indiana Baton Rouge, LA
21 NC State home vs. James Madison Raleigh, NC
22 Texas A&M home vs. Miami (Ohio) College Station, TX
23 East Carolina home vs. William & Mary Greenville, NC
24 Texas at Rice Houston, TX
25 Virginia vs. No. 16 Oklahoma Pensacola, FL

OU, UVA Square Off

If you’re looking for a series full of intrigue to open the 2020 college baseball season look no further than No. 16 Oklahoma versus No. 25 Virginia, a three-game set to be played on a neutral site in Pensacola, Fla.

Neither team made the postseason a year ago. In fact, Virginia didn’t make it the year before either after making an appearance in 14 straight Regionals since Brian O’Connor took over as the head coach in 2004. That stretch included four College World Series appearances (2009, 2011, 2014, 2015) and one national championship as we enter the five-year anniversary of their first-ever CWS title.

Oklahoma has advanced to the NCAA Tournament 33 times since 1972, missing just 14 times during that stretch spanning 47 years and never twice in a row until they missed three straight years from 2014 to 2016. Missing the postseason last year was especially disappointing considering that they opened the year 22-5 before losing their first weekend series of the year to West Virginia in late March that started a steady slide down the Big 12 standings.

There’s some recent history between the two teams as well, with Oklahoma holding bragging rights in each instance. In 2010, under the guidance of Sunny Golloway, OU took down O’Connor’s Cavaliers in a best-of-three Super Regional series held in Charlottesville. Virginia got off to an early 1-0 series lead with the Sooners claiming the last two games to advance to Omaha, the last time they’ve made a CWS appearance.

In 2012 they faced each other again in the postseason, with Oklahoma once again ending Virginia’s season, in Charlottesville, with a Regional upset.

And despite the fact that neither team made the postseason a year ago, hope springs eternal and each of these teams looks to make a strong answer in 2020 opening the year ranked within the Preseason College Top 25.

Oklahoma has two big things going for them: a potentially dominant pitching staff for coach Skip Johnson to work with and some impressive experience in the everyday lineup. Projected staff ace Cade Cavalli is expected to only pitch this season after serving a two-way role and reports indicate he’s been flirting with triple digits. He has always had a power arm but appears to have taken the next step and could be OU’s best pitcher since Jon Gray and his phenomenal season in 2013 that led to him being the third overall pick in the MLB Draft. Junior lefthander Levi Prater enjoyed a strong 2019 season and sophomore righthander Ben Abram should round out the weekend starting rotation with senior Jason Ruffcorn closing games out.

The word “senior” can be found frequently in the starting lineup, particularly up the middle with catcher Brady Lindsly, shortstop Brandon Zaragoza and second baseman Conor McKenna all returning to their usual posts. Corner infielder Tyler Hardman, a junior, returns the biggest bat for a team that should have no problem scoring runs.

Conversely, Virginia is more about youth as a program rebuilding its way back to previous glory. The heart of the lineup will have two sophomores that enjoyed big freshmen seasons a year ago, second baseman Nic Kent and third baseman Zack Gelof, while freshmen Chris Newell and Max Cotier are expected to play every day at the key positions of center field and shortstop, respectively. Outfielder Brendan Rivoli, catcher Logan Michaels and first baseman Alex Tappen will provide some stability to the lineup and will be joined by two-way talent Devin Ortiz, who continues to look better and better swinging the stick after leading the team in both batting (.421) and ERA (1.78) a year ago.

Youth continues on the pitching staff with sophomore righthander Mike Vasil expected to claim one of the weekend starting roles. He’s expected to follow Griff McGarry and Chesdin Harrington, and the team’s top prospect for the 2020 MLB Draft, lefthander Andrew Abbott, will close games out.

And while it’s far too early to find any strong takeaways for either club simply by who wins/loses the three-game series to open the season, it could help shed some light on what kind of character each team is going to have plowing through the next 4-5 months.

– Patrick Ebert

Next Level Prognostications

College baseball’s 2020 Opening Day is on the horizon. This is the time of year when predictions are en vogue. So let’s take that to another level. Here are some off-the-wall, but hopefully accurate, prognostications for this season. If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

18.5 – ACC and SEC Teams in the NCAA Tournament
Give us the over. The SEC is the deepest league in college baseball and Alabama is much improved. This is arguably the deepest ACC in the league’s history. These two leagues combined for a record 18 bids in 2019. 20 feels possible in 2020.

Oklahoma will win some version of a Big 12 title in 2020
The Sooners are old up the middle with shortstop Brandon Zaragoza and catcher Brady Lindsly. A rotation led by Cade Cavalli and Levi Prater kicks off what should be a very good bullpen. The Big 12 as a league is very talented but young. We’ve got hardware headed to Norman.

6.5 – SEC arms who will be first round picks
Only two starting pitchers will be named First Team All-SEC but as many as eight could be first round picks this June. No less than nine SEC arms are ranked in the top 30 of PG’s 2020 college draft list: Emerson Hancock, Asa Lacy, Hugh Fisher, Garrett Crochet, Tommy Mace, Tanner Burns, JT Ginn, Cole Wilcox and Carmen Mlodzinski. Give us the over.

Two among these teams go to a Super in 2020: DBU, Campbell, UNCW, San Diego State, Jacksonville State
These programs fit the profile: veteran groups who are used to winning and come to the party with significant Regional experience. For example, DBU has been to the NCAA Tournament in eight of the last nine seasons and the San Diego State roster offers an Omaha-caliber talent level. This group of five is dangerous, and if they are able to advance to the Super Regional round, anything can happen. #OneWeekendForOmaha

West Coast wins it all
This prediction basically comes down to either UCLA or Arizona State. These two clubs are the class of the left coast and both teams are built to go deep. UCLA combines an elite bullpen with a very talented overall roster. The Sun Devils offer a dynamic offense, they play premium defense and Tracy Smith may have just enough pitching.

And when the Pac-12 gets to Omaha, they do damage. In the last decade, the league sent just 11 teams total to the College World Series. Of those 11 teams, five played in the CWS Finals with Arizona (2012), UCLA (2013) and Oregon State (2018) winning it all. #InItToWinIt

30 bombs, times two
Kris Bryant (San Diego) hit a remarkable 31 home runs in 2013. He out-homered 226 entire teams that season. No Division I player has eclipsed the 30-home run mark since then.

This year, multiple players will do it. It’s aggressive but we only need two hitters to rise up. The three best chances are Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State), Aaron Sabato (North Carolina) and Alex Toral (Miami). And let’s add a hitter to be named later from the always explosive Ohio Valley Conference. #30BombsForAllMyMen

– Mike Rooney

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